This guest post comes from my friend Gail, who manages her short-term rental in France from her California home.
In 2011 we bought a second home in the Var region of France after seeing photos online and taking a quick trip to look/see. It seemed quite reasonably priced and at 65 years old, this seemed like the folly we would most enjoy. Because I speak French, we were comfortable with the legal goings-on during the purchase.
The house is made of stone, with tile floor and a tile roof. It was initially built in 1200 as a monastic lodge associated with a local chapel. Rebuilt in 2000, it seemed solid as could be, had plenty of space, lots of natural light, and no yard to take care of. It was right inside the charming old village. What could go wrong?
Setting up the house
Our plan was to use the house ourselves for a month or so every year and then rent it to friends or older couples who wanted a true French village experience. We had great fun buying furniture at the local street markets. What we couldn’t find on the street, we bought at the Ikea in the neighboring city of Toulon. Those trips to Toulon in our little Peugeot were hilarious as we stuffed boxes, bed covers, ethnic rugs, pictures frames and fake plastic plants into our tiny old gray car. We bought a few classy pieces to give the place French pizzazz and were thrilled with the result.
Getting our first short-term rental inquiries
We had a great response to our VRBO listing. It seemed that every person in the northern Midwest and southern Canada was enamored with the idea of a trip to a warm French village where Provencal vineyards, and great croissants were just minutes away. I got so many phone calls I could hardly handle the level of interest. And I discovered that Americans and Canadians were happy to pay generously for a well-appointed 2-bedroom village house. Many of the Europeans going to the south of France wanted a house with a swimming pool but all the North Americans seemed to care about was charm and rosé wine.
Managing our short-term rental remotely
I worried a lot about how we could care for the house when we were home in California…until I found Natalie through a reference of another American I met in the village. Natalie calls herself a “maniac” for cleanliness and neatness, and she is very responsible. It didn’t take long for her to include the care of our second home in her great family circle.
The first winter, when we discovered that the roof had leaked all over our bed and old armoire, Natalie and I “talked” daily. I would wake up at eight a.m. to find the texts she had sent at the end of her day the night before. We had to decide what to do with the bed and the armoire, how to repair the roof, what to do about mold that might develop. It helped enormously that Natalie is married to a plumber and has lived in the area forever – she seems to know someone for just about every problem.
We treasure Natalie, and we pay her well. We pay a monthly stipend to watch over the house, send her a big check for Christmas, and leave her gifts when we return to the U.S. after a stay in the house. We also ask our guests to leave 75 euros for her to cover the cleaning costs. After 5 years only one guest ever forgot to do this.
Greeting our short-term rental guests
Natalie doesn’t speak much English, so she isn’t comfortable being a welcome committee. That’s working out fine because we’ve found that most guests do not need or want a person to welcome them to the house. We leave a book with information about how things work, and I send guests a long email with suggestions for restaurants, day trips, markets, wineries, bike routes, beaches, golf clubs, and so on. I even write a suggested one-week itinerary that many people follow and enjoy.
I ask guests to write back to me with their reflections. I enjoy hearing their tales of places I love, of getting lost and discovering a new village, or of finding that they really can speak some of the French they learned in high school.
Managing rent payments and expenses from a distance
My guests from the U.S. pay their rent by personal check, made out to me, and our German and French guests wire payments to our French bank account at BNP. I ask for a $500 deposit upon booking and the balance 6 weeks before the arrival date. I’ve had only one cancellation, for serious medical reasons, and those guests came the following year. I always talk to the people on the phone before booking and ask for a photo ID.
On our last trip to France, we did encounter a scary banking problem. Our U.S. bank had told us we could make a deposit to our French bank using an American check. We proceeded to transfer a sizable amount of money to France to pay for our trip and our housing expenses. Then the money disappeared for more than seven weeks. It eventually showed up in our French account, but we didn’t have use of it for the entire time. Next time we’ll remember: wire transfers are the way to go.
Facing fewer short-term rental inquiries
Over the years, the flood of inquiries from VRBO has become a trickle. As I’ve gotten to know the village, I’ve made friends with locals, and several people have asked to act as rental agents. I haven’t taken that step yet but am thinking about it. But for now, we’re getting enough interest from former guests, friends, college roommates, acquaintances, golf partners, and others so that the rental income is enough to cover our taxes, water and electricity. We are happy with that.
We always find great joy in returning to “our” French village, where we are becoming known and accepted. The people at the boulangerie know which breads we like when we go into town each morning. The owners of the local cafe greet us warmly when we return each year.
One reason we chose this village is that Bill isn’t fluent in French. The village is a center for many English and Scandinavians, and the Scandinavians all seem to speak English. One needs friends, and making friends is so much more difficult to do if one of the couple can’t speak the language.
While we are still “foreigners,” we are now recognized as part of the village life. We wonder what will happen eventually because the housing market in our town is not “hot,” but that is a problem for another day…or another year. For now we are very pleased to have this opportunity for adventure.
Planning a trip to southern France? You can find details about Bill and Gail’s beautiful home on VRBO.
Have you ever managed an overseas home remotely? Any tips for people who are thinking about doing the same? Please tell us about them in the comments or on our Facebook page.